Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
28 Nov 2008
by Russell Levine
The Thanksgiving weekend offers plenty of interesting games. There are conferences, coaching fates, and rivalries to be decided.
Plus, don't look now, but FEI and I are riding a hot streak -- relatively speaking -- with our picks. A .500 record is within reach!
The podcast is on hiatus this week, but there's still much to discuss. Let's get right into it.
It has taken until the last week of the regular season, but finally we have some clarity in the ACC, the nation's most confounding conference. If Virginia Tech beats Virginia, the Hokies will play for the ACC title against either Boston College or Florida State. If Virginia wins, then it will be Georgia Tech that represents the Coastal division in the championship game in Tampa next week. Expect a low-scoring affair as both teams have struggled offensively for much of the season. Virginia's 2008 campaign is a parabola. An ugly 1-3 start was followed by a four-game winning streak that raised hopes of a bowl bid. But the Cavs limp into this contest having lost three in a row to fall to 5-6. Al Groh, who has seemingly been holding off the executioner ever since he arrived at Virginia, could be gone if the Cavs fall again to the Hokies.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Virginia Tech | RUSSELL: Virginia Tech
There's not much at stake here other than Peach State bragging rights. Georgia Tech remains alive for an ACC title game bid, but its fate will be decided by Virginia and Virginia Tech. Instead, this game will serve as a measuring stick for the two conferences. The popular perception is that the SEC is the far superior league to the ACC, and while that's certainly true at the top end, where Florida and Alabama are far better than anyone the ACC has to offer, it may not be true in the middle and bottom. Georgia Tech's first year running the triple option has been somewhat inconsistent but it would be hard to call the result anything but an overall success. The high point may have come a week ago, when the Yellow Jackets ran over, around, and through Miami to the tune of 472 rushing yards -- the second-highest total ever surrendered by the Hurricanes. Georgia, on the other hand, would have to consider a 9-2 campaign somewhat of a disappointment. The Bulldogs began the year ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls, but fell in their two biggest tests of the season, against Alabama and Florida, and neither was particularly close. With those two schools set to compete in the SEC title game and claim both of the league's BCS bids, the best Georgia can hope for is one of the Florida bowls -- Outback or Capital One. An eighth straight win over Georgia Tech, which would match the longest such streak in the series, would help to salve the wounds of the season. Lost in the attention paid to Tech's offense is a defense that is solid against both run and pass -- perfect for a balanced offense like Georgia's. Still, the Bulldogs have the talent edge and the home field. If they are sufficiently motivated, they should be able to hold off the Yellow Jackets, but the line feels too high.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Georgia Tech (Edelstein Lock) | RUSSELL: Georgia Tech
Cincinnati, fresh off its program-defining win over Pittsburgh last week, now has one final hurdle to climb in order to clinch the Big East title and the first BCS bid in school history. Syracuse may look like little more than a speed bump on paper, but try telling that to Notre Dame. The Orangemen appear determined to send already-fired coach Greg Robinson on a high note. A Cincinnati loss combined with a West Virginia win over Pittsburgh would send the Mountaineers to the Orange Bowl instead. With so much at stake -- including potentially a better job for Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly, it's unlikely the Bearcats would take their opponents likely. But Syracuse's upset of the Irish makes for easy coaching lessons for Kelly, whose name will be in consideration for many of the offseason openings should Cincinnati win this game. Kelly will be an interesting coach to follow. Depending on how much of the blogosphere you believe, both Michigan and Michigan State took brief looks at Kelley during their recent coaching searches before quickly moving on to other candidates. This despite Kelly being a hot name with ties to the state. Is their something in his background that is scaring off bigger programs? The next month should provide an answer. If Kelly doesn't get a serious look after the success he's had at Cincinnati, it will be the surest sign that there are some skeletons in his closet. As for this game, all signs point to the Bearcats, but I'm tempted enough by the high line to think that Syracuse can keep it close enough to cover.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Cincinnati | RUSSELL: Syracuse
This is a danger spot for Florida. The Gators are ranked fourth in the BCS, but almost certainly control their own destiny to get to the national title game if they can win out -- which means it's not exactly an ideal time to be playing a non-conference game against an in-state rival. Then again, this isn't exactly an unfamiliar situation for Florida, so they should have no trouble getting up for this contest. The Gators have been the hottest team in the nation over the last seven weeks, ever since their stunning loss to Ole Miss. During the streak, only Vanderbilt has managed to stay within four touchdowns of the Gators. Last week, with a potential letdown game scheduled between Steve Spurrier's visit and the rivalry tilt against the Seminoles, Florida took care of business against the Citdadel, 70-19. Like much of the ACC, Florida State has been up and down this season. The 'Noles were embarrassed by Boston College in an important home game two weeks ago, but bounced back to trounce Maryland on the road last week to remain alive for a spot in the ACC title game. Their conference fate will be decided elsewhere, but Florida State can issue a statement merely by keeping the game against Florida competitive. The 'Noles have a vintage pass-rushing defensive end in Everette Brown, and he'll be needed to get quickly to Tim Tebow and disrupt the Florida passing game before Tebow can find the likes of Percy Harvin deep downfield. Florida State also has a decent offense, surprising given its struggles in that area in recent seasons. I think the 'Noles can keep this competitive for a half, but even with the rivalry factor, there's no way I'm taking 17 points against a team that is crushing everyone by margins close to double that amount. Florida will turn it into a rout in the second half.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Florida State | RUSSELL: Florida
If Alabama can't end Auburn's six-game losing streak in the Iron Bowl this year, the Tide might never win this rivalry game again. Everything points towards the Tide, who have barely trailed a game all season and have seemingly been on a roll ever since burying Clemson in the season opener. Alabama is now in the odd position of being atop every poll and the BCS standings, but is still considered an underdog in the SEC given the way Florida has played the last two months. Auburn's season has been an utter disappointment. Considered a fringe national title contender before the year, Auburn imploded with an inept offense that led to the firing of its first-year coordinator at midseason. Things haven't improved a whole lot since then, as the Tigers have lost five of six games and have average less than 20 points on offense against BCS-conference teams. So can they beat the Tide? Unlikely. Rivalry games are tough to judge and Auburn will do everything in its power to extend the lengthy winning streak against Alabama, but nothing in this matchup favors the visitors. Auburn must hope for a big play from its excellent return units to even keep this game close. The only reason I'm picking the Tigers is because I think the line is too high against an offense that has struggled. Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson has been mistake-prone after beginning the season with flawless play. I think he's good for a turnover or two here, and that will be enough for Auburn to stay within two touchdowns.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Alabama | RUSSELL: Auburn
The other half of the ACC will be decided on Chestnut Hill, where Boston College will clinch the Atlantic Division with a win over Maryland. This would have been a winner-take-all match for the division had the Terps not imploded at home against Florida State a week ago. All hope is not lost for Maryland, however. Boston College's Dominique Davis will be making his first career start at quarterback after Chris Crane broke his collarbone against Wake Forest last week. Davis won't have to do that much to send the Eagles to Tampa for the ACC championship -- Maryland's offense has struggled all season, particularly the last few weeks. Look for Boston College to generate some turnovers and seal the game in the second half.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Boston College | RUSSELL: Boston College (Edelstein Lock)
Win the Civil War and the Beavers are headed to Pasadena, and the least-anticipated rematch since Super Bowl XXVIII. Unfortunately for Oregon State, it looks as if it has lost its best offensive weapon, super scat-back Jacquizz Rogers, to a bum shoulder. Quarterback Lyle Moevao is also banged up. Oregon State may have to rely on its defense to contain the Oregon run game and hope that Sammie Stroughter can do something special in the return game to spark the offense. Oregon hasn't been in the spotlight much this season, but the Ducks can move the ball, and a win here could set them up for a trip to the Holiday Bowl, so there is plenty on the line for both squads.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Oregon State | RUSSELL: Oregon
Notre Dame is 6-5, and as we all know, "you are what you are, and that's not good enough." They will need evey bit of a "decided schematic advantage" in order to keep the game close against USC, whose defense is the best in the nation by a wide margin. That's bad news for Notre Dame's pop-gun attack, which failed to register a single point against the only other top defense it has faced -- Boston College. And few would compare the Eagles to the Trojans. Notre Dame fans can only hope the Irish will "do their talking on the field". At least Notre Dame is better than Michigan. "To hell with Michigan," anyway. I don't mean to kick Charlie while he's down. Wait, yes I do. Few college coaches have arrived with the bluster and arrogance of Weis, despite being a completely unproven commodity as a head coach. And few have produced so little, with so much. Yes, there were two BCS bids the first two years with Ty Willingham's players. But tell me, whom exactly did Notre Dame beat those seasons? Weis's best result in four seasons remains a near-miss against USC, the same game for which we has handed an ridiculous contract extension for which his agent should bypass the mandatory waiting period and be immediately inducted into the agent Hall of Fame alongside Drew Rosenhaus and Bob Sugar. Depending on whom you believe, Weis either has an affordable buyout clause, or the figure is "stupefying," meaning not even Notre Dame can afford to get rid of him. Maybe a 40-point humiliation at the hands of USC would change that, but it's doubtful if the buyout figure is north of $10 million. Weis will get his fifth year, the same courtesy every Notre Dame coach except Willingham has been granted. As for this game, the only reason I'm taking Notre Dame is that USC's offense hasn't been explosive enough to justify the line. A 35-7 final sounds about right.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Notre Dame | RUSSELL: Notre Dame
Oklahoma is the talk of the nation after destroying Texas Tech on national TV to get itself into the thick of the national title race. You know what that means -- it's time to start looking out for "Chokelahoma." Sooners squads with BCS title potential were scuttled by Oklahoma State in 2001 and 2002. There was the 2003 Big 12 title game debacle, followed by an ugly performance against LSU in the 2003 Sugar Bowl. The 2004 Orange Bowl against USC was even worse. And though they weren't national title contenders, let's not forget the last two Fiesta Bowls, with losses as heavy favorites against Boise State and West Virginia. Now that I've got that out of the way, I can resume my Sooners love-in. Oklahoma's offense has been unstoppable all year, but has taken it to another level since the loss to Texas, averaging 59.5 points per game since then. Oklahoma State is yet another Big 12 South squad with a strong offense and just a so-so defense, so expect lots of points in this one. This game will be won or lost depending on the performance of the Oklahoma State offense. Quarterback Zac Robinson should fare better against the OU pressure than did Texas Tech's Graham Harrell, and Oklahoma State has a better offensive line. That unit will need to be at its best -- it was Oklahoma pressure up the middle that completely disrupted the Texas Tech spread and led to last week's rout. The Cowboys need to prevent the pocket from collapsing in the middle and establish some sort of run game. They also need to get a big play or two on special teams. This one should be far closer than last week, but I still like the Sooners to keep it rolling -- and Sam Bradford to all but sew up the Heisman.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Oklahoma | RUSSELL: Oklahoma
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
|Visitor||Spread||Home||FEI Says||Russell Says|
|Virginia||+8||Virginia Tech||Virginia Tech||Virginia Tech|
|Georgia Tech||+8||Georgia||Georgia Tech*||Georgia Tech|
|Florida||-17||Florida State||Florida State||Florida|
|Maryland||+7||Boston College||Boston College||Boston College*|
|Oregon||+3.5||Oregon State||Oregon State||Oregon|
|Notre Dame||+30||Southern Cal||Notre Dame||Notre Dame|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
(Note: Our other college column, Varsity Numbers, is off for Thanksgiving and will return next week.)
37 comments, Last at 01 Dec 2008, 1:38pm by DrewTS